“Why do you do that?” Have you ever thought that about, or even said that to your mate? Why do we do the things we do? While a multitude of things can contribute to our behaviors, it is essential that you look at your family of origin because the environment you grew up in—the family structure that (at least subconsciously) taught you what it means to be family—is always at work in your life. It is virtually impossible to fully escape the influence of your family of origin.
So, whether you are contemplating marriage, or have been married for over fifty years, it is incredible important to understand and be honest about your perception of the family you came from because you will do one of two things. Either you will repeat what you’ve experienced or you will rebel against what you’ve experienced; and either one of those responses can be good or bad depending on what you are repeating or rebelling against. To improve your own marriage, you can rebel against a bad behavior you saw modeled by one of your parents. By the same token, you can repeat a pattern that has left generations of marriages in your family dysfunctional. You must choose what you will do, but if you want to choose a path to a healthy, godly marriage you must be honest about the “family baggage” you are bringing into your own marriage.
And amazingly, when we look at our family of origin, two things happen (and sometimes, paradoxically, they happen simultaneously). First, we believe that our family experience is normative. And second, we believe that our experience is entirely unique and no one else has ever experienced what we experienced. As ironic as it sounds, it is not uncommon for someone who grew up with parents who yelled all the time to expect that is how families communicate (whether he wants that for his own marriage or not). But at the same time, he might still say, “You just don’t understand. You can’t know what it was like growing up with him as a father!” We believe our situations to be completely unique, but we often have no other context from which to interpret other relationships, including our own marriages.
So how do we process this? First, be receptive to your spouse’s input. Your spouse can recognize patterns which originate from your family that you might not recognize yourself. Assuming that your mate is motivated by God's love and not by selfishness, he or she can help you identify behaviors that need to be maintained and behaviors that need to be eliminated for your marriage to be healthy. Second, understand how incredibly difficult it really is to change an ingrained behavior, so continually practice forgiveness and grace and humility with your mate. And third, never forget that in Christ, God can still work through us in spite of our screwed up families to fulfill his divine purpose. Just look at how screwed up Abraham’s family was, yet he is “the father of the faithful,” or David’s family, yet he was still “a man after God’s own heart.” In Christ, you can become, not just settle to be; and wouldn’t that make for an increasingly better marriage.